What is cryocautery of the cervix?

Cryocautery is a method of treating symptoms of a cervical ectropion such as persistent vaginal discharge or bleeding after sex. A cervical ectropion is where cells normally found in the cervix are also found on the outside surface. It is not abnormal to have cervical ectropion and it is only treated if it causes discharge and bleeding. You will have been referred for cryocautery after undergoing a biopsy (where a small sample of tissue is removed from the cervix) during an examination called a colposcopy.

Before cryocautery

No special preparation is necessary for cryocautery, but it should not be performed during the heavier days of your menstrual period. Some cramping is often felt, so taking ibuprofen or paracetamol beforehand is recommended.

How is cryocautery done?

You will be asked to remove the bottom half of your clothing and lie on a couch with your legs in leg supports. A smooth, tube-shaped tool called a speculum may be placed inside the vagina, like when you have a cervical smear.

A small probe called a cryoprobe is placed on your cervix to freeze and destroy the cells on the top layer of the cervix. This is so a new healthy layer of cells can grow. The freeze lasts for about three to five minutes.

During the freeze, most women feel cold and may experience some cramping. It is not usually painful. After the freeze, the probe is defrosted and removed. The cervix is then allowed to thaw for several minutes, and the freeze may be repeated a second time if necessary.

After your cryocautery

You may go about all your normal activities including work, school, and recreation.

You will experience a heavy discharge for several weeks after cryocautery. The discharge after treatment may be worse than the one you came in with, but this should improve as the area heals. We advise that you do not:

  • Use tampons until after your next period.
  • Have sex for four weeks.
  • Go swimming for four weeks.

Risks and side-effects

Cryocautery is a safe treatment and complications are extremely rare. It does not hurt, although cramping may occur. However, if you do experience any symptoms, such as a fever or smelly discharge, please see your GP.